IWC 60 day three: once more unto the breach – June 25th 2008

It wasn’t quite open warfare, but the third day of this Wonderland exercise in Santiago came close a couple of times. The consensus approach so dear to the heart of Chairman Hogarth never was a declared truce, more like a bunch of former but still active opponents standing around, uncomfortably, at a peace conference; neither side certain (by any means) of the other. Everyone wanting the shouting to stop, but no-one truly willing to concede anything. So it was with the discussion of “special permit whaling” (read “scientific” whaling”) which began Day Three.

Because of the absence of a specific request from Japan (in the spirit of harmony) there was no real target, but it took bare moments for the attack dogs from each side to spring into action. A (possibly deliberately) provocative “so-called science” remark of the UK was quite sufficient to create a chain reaction; a couple of blinks later, the armies on either side were formed up, staring each other down, and hurling insults. Most of it was the usual lethal v’s non-lethal argument, but there were some great moments. The best came from Russia, which (after congratulating Japan for its stellar service to Science) recalled the fate of Copernicus. In Russia’s account, the great scientist was put to death by Jesuits for refusing to withdraw his outrageous claim that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The death scene was a traditional burning at the stake, with a mob surrounding the fire, cheering and jeering. In a marvelous conclusion, which brought down the house, the crowd in Commissioner Ilyashenko’s story was the forerunner to today’s NGOs!

It turns out that Copernicus actually died of a stroke in 1543, and though he was wary of the Church, was not persecuted by it. Apparently, because he was a cautious heretic, his work went unpublished until after his death. Not wanting to wreck a good story, I should add that Russia is actually far more good-humoured in this meeting than previously – not wanting to break consensus but getting its points across anyway, in a fashion that doesn’t have quite the same hard edge of previous rounds. A possible explanation is that Russia knows there’s nothing really at stake here.

Two signs of impending conflict deserve noting. One was during the discussion of Special Permit Whaling this morning, when St. Kitts spoke for the first time in this meeting. It was almost a welcome relief to hear the rich tones of Daven Joseph back, as we’re quite accustomed to being bathed in the waves of nonsense that come out of his orator’s mouth and feeling quite good about it. This was his first intervention in this meeting. It was brief and to the point, a shot across the bow… St. Kitts is willing to go along with the consensus nonsense, but don’t push too far.

The other auspicious moment came during the last afternoon session, when NGOs were allowed to speak for the first time. Other international fora include NGOs by choice and even inclination, but the IWC has always been closed minded about them – indeed, it was a long time before NGOs were allowed in the same room. To allow them to actually say something was outrageous – some might even call it a sign of progress. In any event, after a long process, it was agreed that NGOs could address the meeting – 3 would be from the pro-whaling side and 3 from the pro-whale side. The NGOs would decide which organisations would speak, and each would have 5 minutes. All statements were to be submitted to the Secretariat beforehand, to ensure “no surprises”. The session began with a conservation group representing numerous pro- whale NGOs in South America, then moved on to the High North Alliance, then WWF, and then a pro-whaling Japanese group. All of the speakers spoke predictably and well about their points of view, and stayed within the time limit. The 5th group was Greenpeace, which was represented by a Japanese member who began by saying that he would speak in Japanese for half the time, and then an English speaking person would finish the comment. When the time for hand-over came, a loud voice suddenly intruded: “Point of Order, Mr. Chairman”. It was St. Kitts again, Daven Joseph explaining that the agreement was that there would be 3 speakers from each side, and now, as might be expected from such slippery folk, they suddenly want another one. Chairman Hogarth briefly argued that Grenpeace was only going to use 5 minutes total, and had wanted to present half of their comments in Japanese & half in English, to assist communication. There was no way St. Kitts was going to buy into this, and the Chair quickly conceded. It was a brief moment, but a telling one.

Perhaps even more telling, at the very end of the day, after the Chair had actually declared the last session over, Denmark suddenly requested a private Commissioners’ meeting at the beginning of tomorrow. Presumably, this is so Denmark can have one last go at the Commissioners, trying to convince them to allow Greenland to kill humpback whales again. Late tonight, the EU was sticking to its “no humpbacks” position, but…

Tomorrow is another day.

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